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Let’s elaborate on specificity in character.  In my first post I said it wasn’t enough to just slap a lab coat on the rig and call him a doctor.  He has to be a specific person. A specific doctor.  A unique character.

This is not a concept exclusive to animation.  Live action actors must also accomplish the same sort of specificity to be successful*.  Not being a live action actor myself, I can’t venture a guess how one ‘becomes’ a character; though perhaps when they put on a lab coat it actually changes the way they feel and informs their choices.  However, I do enjoy watching talented actors portraying wide varieties of roles, and even though I don’t fully understand the intricacies of the process, I am entertained by the results and fascinated by specificity.

For example, in my personal opinion, Philip Seymour Hoffman (imdb here) is a talented actor capable of such transformations between characters.  He successfully communicates his characters to the audience on a number of levels.  For the sake of argument, I found four images from four different films:

Essentially, the same ‘rig’ is being used in each film.  He is the same height, weight, skeleton, hair color, etc.  And sure, the costume is changed in each – but that’s not enough, remember? To me, the overwhelming concept in these images is not how he’s dressed, it is how he is posed.  How he carries himself is what communicates his character.  In fact, two images feature a character dressed in drab clothing, and two feature a character in elegant, powerful wardrobe.  Yet, despite some costumes being practically interchangeable, none of these characters feel similar.  He has found unique and specific ways for each character to behave.
Number one would never hold a glass like number two.  He just wouldn’t.  Nor would three or four.  I don’t feel like number four could be as internal and reserved as number three (or hold his own hand in such a gentle, comforting way).  And I can’t see number two holding his arms above his head in the way number four does. In fact, I don’t think number two would ever raise his arms above his shoulders, no less his head.  Number one feels more shy and introverted while four feels extroverted and loud.  I could go on and on, but look for yourself and find more specificity dividing these characters.  Now think about this: all of these are just still images.  We are only looking at how these characters hold themselves in a freeze-frame!  Apply motion to it and the differences become exponential.  Then you can find specificity in movements, not just posing.  As animators we control movements on a frame-by-frame basis.  There is no reason not to make posing, and movements, unique to a character.

-Jacob

*successful artistically.  You can be also wildly successful in hollywood if you are very attractive and have marginal talent.

Movie still-frames:
Image 1: Boogie Nights
Image 2: Capote
Image 3: Doubt
Image 4: Along Came Polly